It’s COLD!!!!

A wacky tempest hit Colorado in the last 24 hours and snow fell in lucky places north of me and in the high country. We did get some of that stuff and some of that other stuff known as “rain.” Not much. Not enough to settle the dust but still. Maybe it’s just meteorological practicing to see if it’s even possible to fall here in the San Luis Valley, and maybe any little effort deserves applause. I covered the baby beans in the garden and thought good thoughts for the peony buds in front.

Sometimes that’s all you can do.

The four beans (so far) outside were easy to name, but the four inside beans? Some bean somewhere will be Li Ho — probably an outside bean since, as a poet, he was an outsider. And Li Bai will return, I’m sure. And why these two?

Each of them wrote a poem that shed light on my life at the time (and now) — or maybe life in a greater sense than just this one, solitary, small life. As a writer I think often of my high school AP English teacher and her insistence on Aristotle’s insistence that good drama (tragedy) had “universality.” Mrs. Zinn harped incessantly (to the ears of a 17 year old) on this. Now I think the importance of that idea is (hopefully) impossible to fully understand when you’re 17 years old, unexposed and inexperienced. Sure, intellectually I understood “hubris” and some of the other Greek words (and the concepts behind them), but not like I understand now (ha ha).

This morning, thumbing through my first ever book of Chinese poetry, a book I received as a Christmas present from my best friend in 1979, two years before I went to China or even applied for a job, I see that it’s OK for these beans to have the same names as their progenitors. Nurturing this fifth generation of Scarlet Emperor Beans, I see a new aspect to the idea of “universality.” Here are the two important poems, the first by Li Bai:

Li Bai Trans. Cyril Birch

Li Bai’s poem is accessible and Yeats wrote a similar poem in “The Song of the Happy Shepherd” but Li Ho’s poem, “Don’t Go Out of that Door” is similar in its message, but more desperate, maybe darker, definitely more passionate.

Li Ho trans. A. C. Graham

Li Ho’s poem inspired Pink Floyd’s (Roger Waters’) The Wall. Waters and I read the poem completely differently. The poem is sufficiently cryptic, and we can only read translations, so the whole thing might be a long, long, long way from what Li Ho had it mind. Still, translation doesn’t kill a good poem. As Goethe said in a beautiful small poem that I can’t find right now, a translation is like a flower in a vase. It’s still the same flower as it was in the field. In any case, it seems to me that Waters’ saw the wall as a barrier, cage, jail. I see it as yeah, maybe all that, but it’s also the ONLY thing there is on which to carve questions.

I’m not a fan of Pink Floyd, and I didn’t know about this connection until not long ago I googled Li Ho’s poem (too lazy to go get the book…) and got the above website. I felt kind of resentful. I mean, after all, that poem belonged to ME. 🙂 Any-hoo… I’d probably better go walk a dog or something while the weather is good (meaning cold).

I went back and found the post I wrote about the first generation of these amazing beans. That was four years ago. Here it is. Hongli, the Scarlet Emperor Bean. The first beans were just an experiment. I had no idea what these plants were like or what they would do, how big they would grow, or what they would be. I just had a packet of seeds. Hongli WAS a Chinese emperor, so that was easy, but a second bean came up? I named him Song Jiang, for the hero in Shui Hu Chuan (The Water Margin).

Hanging Out with a Friend

Yesterday my friend Perla came to Monte Vista (from Alamosa) to see the eye doc who is two blocks away from my house. We spent three hours talking. It was great. She’s an artist and a thinking person so the conversation was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and even included a little time spent in my frowzy studio where I introduced her to lapis lazuli ultramarine. She is extremely talented and skillful in a wide, wide, wide variety of things, so I was surprised when I could show her something new. She understood totally when I explained that the paint is like a person to me, a person who wants to help me paint. She laughed, but she got it. I told her about my dream of owning lapis ultramarine with lapis from Afghanistan, and that I’d tried to buy some with my Christmas present money, but the upheaval in Afghanistan meant no one had it. “Don’t feel bad,” I said, “but all I could get is lapis ultramarine with lapis from Argentina.” She’s from Buenos Aires.

That’s when we went to my studio so I could show her the paint. She looked at the painting that’s on my easel drying, the painting of the storm — which she loved — and at the one that’s in progress. “That’s hard. I couldn’t do it.”

“I don’t know yet if I can,” I said. I was, at the time, showing her the lapis ultramarine by putting it on the canvas with my finger. She compared it to indigo which she’d seen growing — and which dye she had used — at her recent experience as an artist in residence at a farm in Arkansas, an experience she’d loved and that had given her great stories and much needed renewal. Jeans are died Indigo. It’s a great blue and in medieval times was used to replace lapis ultramarine for walls and manuscripts. Lapis ultramarine which was expensive and hard to get. There was even a FALSE Indigo, or woad Indigo, that came from a nasty plant that made the ground useless for anything else, it depleted the soil so completely and so rapidly. Still, it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a great explanation and visualization of the difference between real Indigo and Woad. I didn’t argue or “clarify.” There’s no way to know what another person sees when they look at a color AND we look for familiar shades and patterns all the time. The chart below is excellent. The top blue is synthetic ultramarine. They are all great blues. The featured photo of my work in progress is not color true because the underlying ground is not white, but this chart is.


The subject of representational vs. abstract art came up and Perla has always let me know what she wants me to do. I accept that — a push from a knowledgeable person can be helpful in defining direction and everyone’s free to reject it. But knowing her and her work, I listen. Yesterday she said, “You’re obsessed with reality.” That’s true. As a person who lives largely in my head, reality is an important question for me. I’m not a subjectivist; I believe there is an objective reality and that is why I love nature so much. It is what it is whether I recognize it or. not. I WANT to. But as we talked I realized that I don’t see a difference in my work between the stuff I do that’s representational and that which isn’t completely representational. Wanting a tree to look like a tree isn’t, to me, a bad goal because a living thing is only static until you start engaging with it. I quickly find there is more to it than what I recognize as a tree. I realized that I don’t think most of my “realistic” paintings are realistic.

We discussed another artist’s paintings — which are really beautiful nature paintings — and she said, “I don’t like them. Every little thing,” and she made as if she were painting with a tiny brush on a wall. I think his work is lovely, but not exactly what I would paint (obviously). I proclaimed my theory of art, that nothing in nature is what we see, but the life behind what we see. I didn’t add the rest of the idea which is that the life within everything inscrutable and answers to its own demands. The only response I have to THAT is gratitude to nature for letting me in on a little something from time to time.

But the point — to which we both agree — is that it’s all very personal, meaning to the person looking at the work, maybe buying it.

And, of course, we talked about what probably every two artists have spoken about together since the beginning of time. Which is why are we doing this? After looking at my paintings, she became a little frustrated with her work which is felted clothing. I listened while she worked that all out — she makes money from her work and I, obviously, don’t make money from mine. It isn’t that I don’t want to, it’s that no one sees it. So far in my life, when people see it, they buy it. We talked about marketing and promotion — she’s a good saleswoman and goes to shows and has her work in stores. But THAT? In any case if I want to sell at the Crane Festival next year (which I do) she’ll help me by loaning me panels so I can hang my work. Behind the conversation was the immense expense in even getting work out where people can see it and buy it.

It was great conversation, inspiring and fun. Then “What will you do if Trump is elected president again?”

“Perla, remember? We already have a plan. We’re going to Argentina.”

“That’s right Patagonia. Good. Good.” It was a wonderful, wonderful day. And THEN?

Wu Song appeared in the garden and this morning? Two more — Lao She and Pearl Buck. Three have emerged in the house this morning, as well. Looks like I’ll have beans after all. Thank you mysterious forces of the universe that combine a seed, dirt, water and light. They will be growing among several sunflowers who will help hold them up, attract bees and add general amazingness to the garden.

Tu Fu and Wu Song

Wonder of wonders, a second bean has emerged. I’ve named him Wu Song after a hero in The Water Margin which is a rollicking good adventure novel. Among other things, Wu Song, with his bare hands, killed a tiger that was attacking him. Normally, AS a tiger myself, I’m not too keen on anyone killing tigers, but this is a special case.

I named this bean Wu Song for a couple of reasons. Obviously, I like the book but also because Wu Song is strong, handsome, brave and good and the same can be said for Scarlet Emperor Beans. The first beans to emerge are the bravest especially when it has taken them SO LONG to break through. I figure they really want to. Pearl Buck did a translation which is known as All Men are Brothers. I think the title came from her fervent wish that all men WOULD BE brothers. Here’s part of the entry from Wikipedia if you are curious about the book and its heroes. I’ve left the links in the quotation below because they lead to very cool places.

Water Margin is one of the earliest Chinese novels written in vernacular Mandarin and is attributed to Shi Nai’an.[1] It is also translated as Outlaws of the Marsh and All Men Are Brothers.

The tragic story, set in Northern Song dynasty (around 1120), tells of how a group of 108 outlaws gather at Mount Liang (or Liangshan Marsh) to rebel against the government. Later they are granted amnesty and enlisted by the government to resist the nomadic conquest of the Liao dynasty and other rebels. While the book’s authorship is attributed to Shi Nai’an (1296–1372), there were references laid out in the book that did not exist until the Jiajing reign (1521-1567) of Ming dynasty, sparking a long-lasting academic debate on when it was actually written and which historical events the author had witnessed that inspired him to write the book.[1]

It is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.[2] It has introduced readers to many of the best-known characters in Chinese literature, such as Wu SongLin ChongPan JinlianSong Jiang and Lu Zhishen.

Under a Painting…

The ultimate clock face took a rest yesterday, and we had some actual clouds and maybe fifty or sixty rain drops! In the distance was a lightning storm that set fire to grass near The Great Sand Dunes, some 45 miles/72 km away from me. The fire is already out.

Bear’s superior hearing alerted her to the thunder and that led her and Teddy into the Room of The Bike to Nowhere where they hide in thunderstorms. They were a big help to me doing my balance exercises because Bear kept leaning against me creating a new challenge for which I was grateful.

When I finished my training for the Idiotride (my personal challenge), I saw the wonder and beauty of how the afternoon had shaped up. I smelled petrichor; I felt the cool breeze. Teddy was on to me, and ran out the back door and into the garage fearing I wasn’t going to take him. (But I was!) I leashed Bear and we headed out to the Refuge.

I knew it would be good and it was. I was able to identify a bird I’ve been seeing, an American Avocet. Very pretty small being somewhere in size between a blackbird and a duck, with long legs and a curved bill.

The clouds to the south reminded me of a painting by Georgia O’Keefe. Above the Clouds.

She said she was inspired to paint this (and at least one other) from looking down at clouds from an airplane. The clouds I saw yesterday would have given O’Keefe the same view if she’d been flying from Monte Vista to Ghost Ranch.

The good news is — obviously — that I have a bean. Tu Fu’s little leaves will unfold today. This has been a little lesson in optimism and faith which, together, are synonymous with “do it anyway.”

The featured photo is of some strange stuff that hit my windshield. I just don’t know…

Tu Fu 2022

Finally! The first bean! Tu Fu is one of the Scarlet Emperor Beans I planted too deep — 3 inches! I don’t know why I did that — bad advice from Mr. Internet, I think, very stupid because this isn’t my first rodeo or bean. The packet from which the original beans came is in my seed box, but did I look at it? No. Or rely on previous (successful) experience, good God no, never that.

I didn’t expect to be this happy over the emergence of a bean, but I guess that happens every year.

You may be asking “Why Tu Fu?”

Simple. MAYBE he’ll be the ONLY bean (I don’t know). And, if that’s the case, I want the poet who wrote my favorite Tang Dynasty poem. He also had to CLIMB to get to the sunlight. He might feel a sense of accomplishment.

Gazing at the mountain

Preparing to climb Mt. Tai
All around me, Zhao and Jiang
a distant blue
Good Fortune, the God of Time, bestows and
Balanced in dawn’s early light are Yin and Yang

To the layers of clouds I bare my breast, while 
From the corner of my eye
I catch the sight of flying birds
As I struggle to reach the top
From the summit all the mountains seem small.

I changed the last line to the one my friend translated for me when he wrote the poem for me on a scroll.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I can’t easily climb anything, but then I think, I live at the same altitude as the highest mountains in San Diego County. A mountain is a mountain is a mountain. A mountain can challenge me, but never to judge me. The ring of mountains around me? They just remind me of the immensity of time, sometimes even that they were not always here; that there were Rocky Mountains BEFORE these Rocky Mountains. The great gift of a mountain — as Tu Fu writes in this beautiful poem — is perspective.

望 岳

岱 宗 夫 如 何
齐 鲁 青 未 了
造 化 钟 神 秀
阴 阳 割 昏 晓
荡 胸 生 层 云
决 眦 入 归 鸟
会 当 凌 绝 顶
一 览 众 山 小

You can see more here, along with the story behind the poem and something about Tu Fu: https://100tangpoems.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/gazing-at-the-mountain/

“This Strange, Eventful History”

I was a little kid when I was introduced to the “theater of life.” My dad sat on one end of the sofa with his big blue Collected Works of Shakespeare (that, decades later, my wolf dog destroyed when I was off on a trip to Italy; she hated it when I wasn’t around). He called me up next to him and put his arm around me and said, “This is the truth, MAK.” He began to read, “All the world’s a stage…” As far as I recall, he didn’t proclaim it; he just read. I didn’t understand much. There on the sofa, in an act from our own lives, we were a play within a play in the small theater of our living room, sitting on the rough, green upholstery of the sofa my grandparents had given us when they redecorated their house — or set.

My dad explained what he could but — at six years old — I didn’t have context for everything he told me. I have the context now and it really is an amazing piece of truth, this little speech.

I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with me that I don’t want to go anywhere and don’t especially want to do anything. Shakespeare probably wrote about that, too, somewhere, though I have no knowledge of a play called Weltschmerz. I was planning to drive up to Colorado Springs, and all I could think was, “Yeah last time was great,” thinking of the injury to my shoulder and all the other things that ensued, half a day in urgent care, pain meds that caused projectile vomiting, all of the FUN I had last year, and another trip up there that resulted in a torn Achilles Tendon. I priced the cost of gas to get there — $120. Then my mind went to all the necessary things in my life that are now more expensive — mortgage payment, trash, utilities, Internet — everything has gone up in price this year eating away the COLA I got from both my retirement plan and Social Security. I’m not alone, I know. And I even understand WHY, but as life has taught me, understanding “why” isn’t always useful. I’m not whining — much. We’re all probably in this boat.

And the news keeps telling me about Kim Kardashian wearing Marilyn Monroe’s dress and Earth trash being left on Mars reminding me of a really handsome guy who attended the same weekly open drawing sessions — life drawing! — $5 and 3 hours with a model in a lovely small auditorium. The coffeehouse of which the auditorium was a part played an FM staton (it was the 70’s) as we drew. It was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful and if such a thing appeared here, right now I would shrug off my Weltschmerz and pay for gas. Garth — the handsome guy — was sitting behind me and my friend Wes. Anyway, invariably the news would come on (once an hour). One evening Garth, disturbed to have the music — and therefore drawing — flow interrupted, said, “That’s not MY news.” As I recall, he growled. 🙂

Speech: “All the world’s a stage”

BY William Shakespeare

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

                                        All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

The featured photo is from the same edition as my Dad’s Shakespeare. It had beautiful illustrations by Rockwell Kent

Tiger Trainer


Back in my teaching days, when I was putting about 100 miles on my car daily, I hit a scary wall in my mind. Without going into the details, I ended up calling two therapists my insurance company recommended. I left messages and headed out for the hills with the dogs. When I got home, one had called me back. She spoke on my answering machine in a lovely French accent. I called her back. Why? Well, I was watching French films at the time and I figured it was a sign. Pourquoi pas?

Her name was France Santella, a dedicated behaviorist, about 12 years older than I. She was amazing. It’s not an exaggeration to say I owe her my life. After she understood who I was and what I was dealing with, she said the very wise thing, “We cannot change what has happened to you. We can only address your response to the triggers that appear now.” I loved the concrete practicality of her methods and made progress quickly. At first she gave me homework after every session and then she stopped.

“You don’t need ze homework any more, Martha. You are a hungry tiger. You see what there is to do and you do it. Like that.” She reached into the air with her hand representing a tiger’s jaw and growled then snapped the finger-teeth on imaginary prey. I realized she’d really seen me. I am a tiger. A Siberian tiger, BTW. You know, snow…

France’ father wanted her to be a nun, and she was educated in a convent. She wanted to be a Bee-bop singer and ran away from home — to Paris and then New York.

A few sessions in, she asked me why I had come to her and not someone else, and I told her the truth. “Well, I’ve been watching French films all summer, and when I heard your voice on my answering machine, I figured it was a sign.”

She laughed. “And what do you think of the French cinema?”

“I like it. I like it a lot, but there is a pattern.”

“Oh? What is zat?”

“Three things appear often, and you never see them in American films.”

“Oh, American films. All special effects and sex. What are zeez three things?”

“Cognac and cigarettes. That’s one.”

“Oh yes, but we don’t have the Gauloise we once had. What else?”

“Incest — real or imagined, and suicide — real or imagined.”

She was quiet for a moment then laughed. “I think you may be right, Martha.”

Mountain 10 Speed

Training for the Iditarod, I mean to ride my bike in Leadville, is going pretty well. I haven’t had any problems adding a bunch of “miles” to the “travels” on my bike to nowhere. I’ll be getting my actual bicycle out as soon as the yard is under control and yeah; I know that might never happen. I’ll get out the bike anyway.

I don’t know out how involved I really want get with my sports equipment. I want new bindings on my skis. I want to get my bike tuned up for REAL. That would be a lot simpler if I could ride it to the bike shop, but I can’t. It’s 18 miles away and I don’t think they give people rides back home.

Sometimes I miss city living. It was great in Denver when I was going to grad school and commuting — by bike — to my job at the University of Denver law school which was then downtown by the art museum. There was a bike shop around the corner from my apartment. I could carry my 10 speed Raleigh Record ❤ down the stairs and to the shop if it needed anything. It was pretty snazzy having that level of convenience.

One bored Saturday afternoon, I took my ten speed (road bike; mountain bikes didn’t exist yet) up to Waterton Canyon outside of Littleton. I wanted an adventure, and the dirt road that penetrated that lovely place along the South Platte River seemed plausible. It NOW has a bike trail, so I was clearly ahead of the curve (ha ha).

It’s a gentle 6 mile climb along the river. Everything started out great but about 2 miles up, I got a flat and had no way to fix it. OH well. I turned around and started walking my bike down the canyon. It was a goat head thorn…


It might have been May that year, or September. The day was warm but not blistering. I walked along with my crippled bike and encountered others walking up or down the trail/road. One of them was a friendly old guy (maybe 50, but don’t get your knickers in a bunch; I was 25 or so at the time. It’s all a matter of perspective…) who walked along with me. He was good company, and I thought it was kind of cool that just by going OUT there on an otherwise lonely Saturday I could end up in an interesting conversation with someone who knew the canyon and where to look for bighorn sheep.

Waterton Canyon is part of Denver’s water supply. At the top is a dam and reservoir. That was a lucky thing for me that day because, about the time I was getting sick of walking and chatting, feeling hot and thirsty, a water truck came by and picked up me and the old guy. We put the bike in the back of their pickup and rode down with our feet hanging over the open tailgate.

The next day I wrote my first short story. I showed it to my boyfriend who was in the creative writing program. He read it and asked if he could take it home where he read it again. I don’t have the story anymore, but I have his comments engraved in my mind. “Your story is good. It has energy and it MOVES.” He made some disparaging comments about his fellow creative writing classmates, but I don’t remember them.

I finally found a photo online of a bike just like my actual bike!!! It was a wonderful bicycle and I wish I’d never sold it, but I had to go to China, right?

P.S. I just looked up the history of the goat head thorn and learned they grow all over the world. Their Latin name is “Tribulus terrestris” which is absolutely perfect.

Scarlet Emperor Beans, Fifth Generation

Dear Readers:

As I finished this post, I realized it’s more a letter than a blog post. SO…

Yesterday I surrendered to my own need to PROPERLY plant Scarlet Emperor Beans. Long time readers of this blog know what that means and yeah, it is a little insane, but…

A few weeks ago, with totally the wrong attitude, I put 8 straight in the ground outside, too deep as it happens. I’ve been distracted by a friend’s personal problems and NOT in the best mood. When the beans didn’t come up I realized what I’d done. “OK Plan B.” Again, without the best attitude, I took a few of last year’s beans outside and planted them the right depth. But something didn’t feel right and THEY haven’t (so far) come up even though the days have been hot and the nights warm — for here. Of course if they come up, they will be greeted with thunderous applause.

Yesterday, as I watered the bed where the beans have been planted, mildly inspired by the tomato and basil sprouts in the house, I thought, “You know what you need to do.” So now, in a fancy germinating tray (that I didn’t want to bring into the house) sitting on a thrift store TV tray (that I didn’t want to bring into the house) are five peat pots in which I’ve planted Scarlet Emperor Beans in my traditional, correct way. They are by a window in my living room that needs desperately to be washed, but because it has old aluminum storm windows, is taller than I am, and won’t open from the inside, chances are it will not be washed in my life time, except the inside which is very clean. OH well. Someone in the life of my house fastened the windows shut with two-sided foam insulation tape. I understand WHY, but really not a good idea. I wish I had the money to replace these windows with new vinyl windows, but I don’t. Home ownership is really a waste for me because it doesn’t matter that I have a mortgage anymore. Tthe standard deduction is greater than my itemized deduction. The advantage — and it’s MAJOR — is the dogs . But I would love the outside of my house to be someone else’s problem.

I have not named the beans yet. It’s tempting fate to show so much interest in young, unfledged things, sort of the “don’t count your chickens” idea. Even so, there’s really no problem giving them the names of their ancestors since they really ARE their ancestors (being plants). So far I’m thinking of Tu Fu, Lao She, Cao Xueqin, Li Ho and Pearl Buck. If any come up outside I’ll take names from the Shui Hu Chuan.

Yesterday the power went out for a couple of hours. It was an interesting experience because I didn’t lose phone service (huh?) and my laptop said, “You have a personal hotspot with your iPhone. Would you like to join?” so I went online via my phone’s G5. This is the first time that opportunity has existed and wow. It made it possible for me to check the outage map, for one thing. Also, after the last long power outage that resulted from the fire we had in town, I bought what my mom would call a “toy” a rechargeable lantern that charges via a USB cable and has the ability to hold the charge to keep an iPhone charged. I quickly saw what a good investment that was — not yesterday, probably, but certainly if the power were out for any length of time.

The cool thing about the power being out was that it brought people out of their houses. I Planted some sunflowers in the front flower bed and, while I was doing this, people walked by, including a guy whom Dusty T. Dog absolutely adored. I haven’t seen him and his wife in two years.

The best news is that the wind has been normal for three days and yesterday we had a clear blue sky and a gorgeous sunset with peach-colored, fluffy clouds.

I hope you’re all doing well,

Love,
Martha, Bear and Teddy